My sister-in-law and nephew flew in from Connecticut and Virginia over the weekend for a visit. To celebrate, we went to lunch at Shutters, one of our favorite happy places in Santa Monica. A casually elegant hotel, it sits right on the beach. The restaurant is on the bottom level, providing easy access. We are especially fond of it because we can take James out for a run and a little sand-throwing while awaiting our order.
We had a wild, rollicking family lunch. Afterwards, my sister-in-law and I walked upstairs to have coffee in the cozy lobby…and there she was.
Framed by a large window, where the sun was finally beginning to shine out from behind the day’s clouds, was a Famous Movie Star.
She wore not a stitch of makeup. I guess it’s true…it’s not cool for actors to wear any when they’re not on set. And yet she was luminously beautiful, her high cheekbones accented in the harsh light, her translucent skin glowing.
She sat at a table with three men who were pitching a project for her.
I don’t know what it was, or whether she liked it or not, but she seemed to listen respectfully. She laughed a loud laugh…the kind our family laughs…several times.
I admire that in a Famous Person, who must be careful about Public Persona.
Our 'larger-than-life' family flailed around the scene…having one last coffee…trips to the Ladies’ Room…James throwing the cushions off the elegant furniture in the lobby.
We left by a side door, but I found myself presenting my valet ticket at the same time as she…who had evidently driven to the meeting alone.
I looked down into my wallet, pretending not to notice that I was inhabiting the same space as a Famous Person.
Then, I decided that was even dumber than acknowledging it.
When she looked up, I guess I kind of smiled at her. I said something completely inane like, “You’re even prettier in person.”
(My family ROLLED ON THE FLOOR…screamed… in embarrassment when I recounted this later. “Mom, you’re such a NERD.”)
But it was true.
And it was exactly the kind of thing I would have said to one of my kid’s friends, upon meeting her in real life, when I had only seen her on their Facebook page.
A real, live, human being. Flesh and blood, like you and me.
She initiated a conversation.
She thanked me for my compliment. And then she began to ask me about me.
Was I visiting LA? Did she notice an accent from TEXAS?
(I put emphasis upon this because virtually every person in Los Angeles who has EVER commented upon my accent has assumed that I am from TEXAS. It will require a whole ‘nother blog to address this issue.)
I replied that, no, I was not visiting from Texas, but that I lived here (in LaLaLand) more than half the time now. But I am actually a Georgia resident.
“Where in Georgia?” the Famous Person asked, even though she easily could have ended the conversation at that point.
“Athens…where the University is…” (i.e., “We speak English there, not Deliverance-ese…”)
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Of course I know it. We have a place outside of Savannah.” Then she went on to tell me where she grew up.
My grandson was running around in the car circle now, chased by his great-aunt. When she looked that way, I told her, “But now I’m out here a lot helping to take care of my grandson. My daughter had a stroke.”
At that moment, Katherine and Jay walked out of Shutters. Jay helped Katherine get settled on a bench behind us. I turned that way, and said, “This is my daughter, Katherine.”
She immediately went over to Katherine and introduced herself. (As If.)
And sat down on the bench next to her.
They started talking away like any two young moms would talk. “How many children do you have?” “Where do they go to Preschool?” “How do you like it?”
She said to Katherine, “I guess you spend most of your time in Rehab now.” Katherine acknowledged that. She asked, “But you want to have other children some day?” Katherine may have given her TMI on that one.
Then Katherine said, “You probably don’t remember this, but we’ve met before. I was the presenter at an awards show a couple of years back. I got to hand you your award.”
Life is strange.
I wandered away at that point to check on James. He had mounted someone’s bike, and my sister-in-law was trying to keep him from falling off and starting a domino effect with the other bikes.
They pulled our car up. (Before the Famous Person’s, even though she had given them her ticket first.)
Neither Jay nor I had any cash for a tip. I ran back over to the bench and interrupted the conversation to ask Katherine if she had any. Instantly, her new acquaintance whipped out her purse and tried to hand me some ones. “Oh no,” I protested. In the meantime, Katherine had produced a five. “Okay,” she said, “I’ll give you five ones for that.”
Just like any girlfriend would.
I thanked her and told her it was great to meet her. I started to run for the car; but for some reason, I looked at her and said, “Take care.”
That night, I googled her to see what movies she’s been in recently. I don’t have a whole lotta time to keep up with popular culture these days.
But I didn’t read about the movies.
I read about the stalker.
He’s been terrorizing her for 8 years. He was finally arrested just two months ago, lurking outside her daughter’s preschool.
Yesterday, a handy man was here hanging blinds on the windows. My new abode is very close to a busy sidewalk, so privacy is imperative. I got scared the other night, peeking out the window at someone standing on the corner for what I thought was an unusually long time. Paranoia.
Opening my new blinds this morning, I notice how efficient they are in shutting out things I don’t want to allow in. I want to shut out prying eyes…shut out danger…shut out the cold. Shut out things I don’t want to see.
The analogy comes: Fear can make us shut other people out. Those who lead an anxious, shuttered existence try to hide their true selves behind opaque blinds of self-protection. But in keeping others out, we also barricade ourselves away from the possibility of connection… communion…love.
I kept thinking about our new acquaintance in this context.
I can’t think of anyone who has more right to close herself up, yank the blinds shut, and whistle for the guard dog than does she. As if being stalked by a dangerous, delusional “born-again Christian” (per the press) weren’t enough, she is stalked 24 hours a day by greedy paparazzi, searching her trash bins for a scrap to feed the gossip machine. She can’t pick up her child from preschool without becoming a walking target. Every click of a camera shutter must feel like a bullet piercing the vest of her privacy.
I’d want to shutter myself away if I were in her place. Keep up my guard. Avoid eye contact with people.
But she opened herself up to be kind and gracious. Generous and compassionate. She put herself out there…cracked a little window into her world.
She even told Katherine where her child goes to school.
Her desire to be real was greater than her fear of being vulnerable.
That is true beauty.
Her attitude toward us was inspirational. Two days later, I “paid it forward” to a homeless man.
Pass it on.
p.s. If anyone decides to take up this challenge...to open yourself up to someone you might not ordinarily open yourself up to...to allow yourself to be vulnerable...I'd love to hear your story.